Dr. Stephen Barrett's article, "The Multilevel Mirage" (Priorities, Summer, 1991) explains how the multilevel marketing process works. (sometimes MLMs are referred to as "pyramid schemes," but not all MLMs meet the legal definition).
In July, Diabetes and Allergies Center; Wie Ann Acupuncture; Dr. Sheng-Gung Cho, and associates have been ordered by the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, to pay a fine of $17,500. The defendants were also permanently enjoined and restrained from claims that induce the public to believe that their services can have any mitigating effect on diabetes, Parkinson's disease, tinnitus, hearing loss, astigmatism, color blindness, diseases of the nose, any conditions set forth in section 26463 of the California Health & Safety Code; or, from representing that the use of acupuncture by itself or together with other services, drugs, devices or advice can cure or have any effect upon the same list of conditions. (Case No. C 628 180).
The marketers of Immune Plus, a nutritional supplement falsely promoted as a cure for AIDS, have agreed to settle with the FTC in a plan that includes refunds to consumers who purchased the product. By moving quickly, the FTC prevented the promoters from achieving nationwide marketing. (FTC News Notes, 10/21/91).
U.S. marshals in Wisconsin have stopped Mobile Clinics of Tomorrow Inc. from continuing its operation of screening for breast cancer with a method it called transillumination. The technique involved shining light in the red and near-infrared spectrum through the breast to illuminate its interior structure. An FDA panel (Obstetrics & Gynecology Advisory panel) determined that the method is not reliable for its intended purpose. The company was not charged. (FDA Consumer, 11/91).
The American Council on Science & Health has filed a complaint with the FTC against newspaper ads placed by Phil Sokolof of the National Heart Savers Association which claim that saturated fat has the effect of "clogging arteries and leading to 500,000 heart attack deaths a year." The ads tout ConAgra's new 4% fat hamburger and imply that using the product will have an impact upon heart disease deaths. ACSH says that the message is false and misleading, and a public health hazard. It points out that half the annual heart attack deaths are in people over 75 "hardly premature or preventable deaths"; more than 1/3 of deaths under 75 are caused by genetic factors which are not modifiable by diet; of the remaining 175,000 deaths, 2/3's are caused by smoking and high blood pressure. This reduces the number who die because of high cholesterol to about 60,000. If this population achieved the success of the National Heart Lung & Blood Institute intervention study, 10% of these, about 6,000, could be saved through cholesterol reduction (Ed. note: the NHLBI study involved drug intervention, not diet). (Food Chemical News, 10/14/91)
The National District Attorneys Association adopted an official policy position on 7/14/91 calling for the repeal of religious exemptions from child health care requirements. On 6/8/91 the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church affirmed that prayer should not serve as a legal substitute for medical care when the life of a minor is at stake. (CHILD, #2, 1991)
Drs. R.A. Chalmers and L.J.K. Davis were found guilty of serious professional misconduct for treating HIV-positive patients with Maharishi herbal products and transcendental meditation. The United Kingdom's General Medical Council professional conduct committee has directed that the names of the two doctors be erased from the medical register on Nov.22 unless they exercise their right of appeal. (TM-EX Press Release citing The Lancet, 11/2/91)
Florida physician Suzanne Peoples is in trouble with the state's Department of Professional Regulation for making false claims in advertising, misdiagnosing patients, gross malpractice, failing to keep written medical records, performing unnecessary tests, exploiting a patient for financial gain, and filing false reports. A detailed report of Peoples' activities appeared in the Palm Beach Post, 8/11/91. Peoples has been running advertisements promoting the notion that many health problems are caused by yeast infection. A former medical technologist employee said that virtually all of Dr. Peoples' patients were diagnosed as having yeast syndrome. A typical patient is charged between $1,400 and $1,900 for initial consultation and tests, and a prescription for diet and vitamins. Patients were treated with a negative ion machine. It is claimed that the machine "replenishes the body's negative charges which can be used up when the body is not getting sufficient oxygen." Peoples alleges that the machine was invented by Albert Einstein. Peoples is described as "a charismatic Christian" who talks to her patients about prayer. She denies being a faith healer, but has been the subject of a malpractice suit which alleges that she attempted to treat a patient's manic depression by "faith healing and exorcism of demons." Peoples also calls herself "a nutritionist." She says of herself, "I am very well-meaning. That's why I take the risk of being controversial."
The California State Department of Health Services has informed the Board of Chiropractic Examiners (BOCE) that various illegal devices were being used by DCs for diagnosis and treatment. Named were electroacupuncture devices (Vol, Vegatest, Interro) cold helium-neon laser stimulation devices, magnets, and ion pumps. The BOCE cautioned DCs that "representing as safe and effective such new devices ... as an inducement for sale, or administering such devices without due consideration of the Investigational Device Exemption regulations, will be considered and pursued as a violation of California law." (BOCE letter dated 10/8/91)
There are some really good books that expose the inner workings of quackery around today. One particularly attractive one is The Great American Medicine Show, subtitled "being an illustrated history of hucksters, healers, health evangelists and heroes from Plymouth Rock to the present" which pretty well describes its contents. Authors are David and Elizabeth Armstrong, a journalist and a historian. Included among the personalities are not only those of the colorful past (eg, Graham, Hahnemann, Kellogg) but moderns such as Rodale, Gloria Swanson, and Linus Pauling. (Prentice-Hall, 1991)
Carl Ferreri, DC, the New York chiropractor who claims to be able to reverse dyslexia and learning disabilities by squeezing children's skulls and thumbing their eye sockets, was held responsible for damage to the children in a misguided school-based experiment to the tune of $565,000. The damage award will go to seven children and their parents for physical and emotional pain. Others had settled out of court, but the plaintiffs wanted more than just money, they wanted to put Ferreri and his Neural Organizational Technique out of business for good. Ferreri must also pay attorney fees. (San Francisco Examiner, 9/29/91)
The Church of Scientology has sought injunctions in at least 7 European courts to prevent the release of the October Reader's Digest which contains a condensed version of Time magazine's 5/6/91, cover story "Scientology: The Cult of Greed." Reader's Digest public relations director Craig Lowder said that the article was thoroughly fact-checked and that independent sources verified every fact. An estimated 100 million people read RD worldwide, Lowder said. It is also reported that Scientologists have spent $3 million on a public relations campaign to counter the Time article. (Magazine Week News, 10/7/91)
Health foods supersalesman Jeffrey Bland, PhD, took to the airways with infomercials in which he claimed that his Nu-Day Diet product could change consumers' metabolism. The FTC has charged that his claims and the format of his infomercial was deceptive. (FTC News Notes, 10/28/91)
NCAHF has learned that the National Advisory Committee on Accreditation and Institutional Eligibility of the U.S. Office of Education (USOE) voted on May 6, 1991, to extend federal recognition of the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education for 3 more years. This action should serve as a warning that the accreditation process is defective at its core when the nation's leading educational authority fails to require that the health care guilds that it recognizes for accreditation be founded upon science. Many will be shocked to learn that no health care guild is legally required to be scientific. How difficult would it be to establish such a standard? Legislators have had no difficulty encoding science into the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act through which drugs and devices are regulated; nor has they had any difficulty establishing the National Institutes of Health or Centers for Disease Control on a scientific basis.However, the USOE marches to the beat of a different drummer. The USOE acknowledges that it does not take into consideration the "legitimacy or social usefulness of the field of training of the agency seeking listing" (US Dept of Education Memorandum dated 7/19/72). Naturopaths will use federal recognition of their accreditation agency as evidence of its validity when no such validation is implied. With this kind of standard at the top of U.S. education the concept of using accreditation to separate degree-mill from qualified graduates is placed in jeopardy. It may be enough to have financial stability and your paperwork in order for liberal arts education, but the recognition of health care training should include science as a qualifying criterion. Curiously, despite several direct contacts with the USOE on this matter, NCAHF was not notified that this vote was to be taken. It seems clear that USOE conducts this kind of business out of the public's view. It might be argued that paid lobbyist could have watchdogged USOE for NCAHF. To this we respond that as a tax-exempt group we are not permitted to do lobbying. We believe that the USOE has a duty to notify concerned parties in matters as serious as this. The failure to do so seems to us to be another symptom of what has gone wrong with our "representative" government. The only ones "represented" are special interest groups who afford the privilege.
CANHELP is a private referral agency operated by Patrick McGrady Jr, son of a late American Cancer Society medical writer who became disillusioned with the medical establishment after getting cancer himself. McGrady Jr is a chip off the old block when it comes to doctor-bashing, but he presents himself to the public as an objective searcher for the best cancer therapies for individual patients. An article in Woman's World (5/7/91) proclaimed "If you're dying of cancer, there may be one man who can save your life. That man is Patrick McGrady, perhaps the only one in the world who knows all about the latest cures and where they can be found." The article was written by a personal friend of McGrady, Holly M. Redell, who did not disclose that fact. Another friend of McGrady, David Zimmerman, writes a critique of the inadequacy and biases of McGrady's work in his newsletter Probe (11/1/91) which dedicated to matters of "science, media and policy on health." Zimmerman notes his reluctance to criticize a friend, but did so after another friend with cancer bought McGrady's $400 service. He describes McGrady's information as:
11 single-spaced pages of chatty but confusing information on alternative treatments, interspersed with news and press release data about conventional therapists, and information on some independent cancer specialists who fall between the two stools. The alternative methods include old quack remedies like coffee enemas. Highly recommended by Pat is a regimen that requires a restrictive diet, the swallowing of 100 to 150 or more pills each day, including pancreatic enzymes to destroy the cancer, and coffee enemas to wash away the dead cancer cells. ... An outdated reference in the future tense ... suggests that the $400 letter my friend got (from McGrady) ... was an all purpose missive, lightly personalized, in response to his mortal plea. Zimmerman has invited McGrady to respond in the December issue.
The Journal of the American Dietetic Association (Vol.32, No.10, October, 1991) carries a series of articles that lay bare the tremendous shortcomings of the weight loss industry. The articles rightly take a broad sweep of the entire scope of weight loss programs. Commercial programs as well as hospital and clinically-based programs are challenged to face up to the realities that most people seeking weight loss will fail. The field is short on science and even ethics when people are led or allowed to believe that successful long-term weight control is possible. More science and less promotionalism is called for. Dietitians are challenged to take the lead in developing more ethical and beneficial treatments, and the government is challenged to strengthen regulation of the weight loss industry. The series addresses the high cost of the false hope engendered in people who fail to achieve permanent weight control in both adverse psychological and physiological effects. NCAHF could not agree more with the information presented in the series. Weight control quackery appears to be the largest single dimension of the overall problem. The numbers of the afflicted and the proportion of failures are enormous. Further, the scams aimed at these people have not changed in observable history. Lincoln's famous statement "you can fool some of the people all of the time" must have been aimed at weight loss seekers. Kudos to ADA for this series. We hope it is a turning point for the legitimate weight control industry.
Chiropractors in Arizona and California have been active in bashing immunization this year. Some DCs still preach that adjusting "subluxations" obviates the need for immunization. A half-page newspaper ad in The San Diego Union in August advising parents that "California law clearly states that your children do not have to be immunized to attend school" was criticized by the California Medical Association and the American Red Cross whose spokeswoman called the ad "appalling." Organized chiropractic takes no position on the matter which, in our view, is an invitation for the loose cannons in the guild to attack the public health measure.
Nu Skin International is accused of being a pyramid scheme by the Michigan State Attorney General, and is under investigation by at least seven states, the FTC, and Securities & Exchange Commission, according to an article in Forbes magazine (11/11/91). Nu Skin projects this years' revenues to be $500 million, but apparently most of that is raised by getting hopeful new recruits to purchase inventory for themselves as they dream big dreams of success. Their role models are a small cadre of entrepreneurs at the top of the pyramid who started the Provo, Utah business some of whom are said to be taking in $4-500,000 per month! The Nu Skin bubble may be about to pop, however, as a class-action suit brought by former distributors is underway. Nu Skin also has had problems with FDA over false claims for it product, Nutriol, which was touted as a hair-grower. (In the May-June NCAHF Newsletter we noted that Nu Skin is making false claims for chelated mineral supplements.) The article provides useful insight into how multilevel pyramid schemes work.
COMMENT: It is impossible not to notice that Nu Skin was created by Mormons, just as it is clear that a substantial number of the multilevel companies trafficking in dubious health care products are located in Utah as well.
Further, a substantial amount of the pseudomedical scams running in Nevada have strong Mormon church links (see award-winning series on homeopathy in Nevada which ran in the Las Vegas Review-Journal from March 1-8, 1987; a 40-page series available from NCAHF for $10 postage-paid). The problem of quackery among Mormons is distressing to responsible members of that faith. To gain insight into why Mormons are vulnerable to quackery we recommend two articles listed on NCAHF's Available Resource Materials List, 6th Edition written by and published in church-related organs (see section: "Quackery, Human Vulnerability").
Aurum, an OTC product, is being touted as "almost miraculous" and without side-effects for arthritis. An investigation by the Council Against Health Fraud / Greater Dallas-Ft. Worth Area found that although gold salts injections are used in severe cases of arthritis, topical applications are not effective; further the product contains a completely inactive form of gold. The gold does appear to drive up the cost, however, as the product is up to 4 times more expensive than other topical analgesics/anti-inflammatory agents. (CAHF News Release, 10/1/91)
The use of hair analysis for evaluating the nutritional status of humans has been known to be a scam for many years. Veterinarians are being warned that hair analysis is also unreliable for horses. A study in Equine Veterinary Science found the method to be invalid and warns that horses may receive "indiscriminate supplementation or megadoses of minerals" as the result of hair analysis. Aside from possible vitamin and mineral toxicity, such overdosing many have an adverse effect on the status of other minerals in the horse. (Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Health Newsletter, May, 1991)
According to the UCB Wellness Letter (10/91) there is no evidence that shark cartilage pills have any medicinal value. Although some research shows that a compound in cartilage implanted in lab animals keeps new blood vessels from developing, and some disorders such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis may be associated with an abnormal growth of new capillaries, there is no reason to jump to the conclusion that swallowing shark cartilage pills will be of benefit.
In 1989 (JAMA, 262:1657-8) it was reported that from 1934-83 the graduates of Principia College (PC), a liberal arts college for Christian Scientists (CS), had a significantly higher death rate than a cohort of the graduates of the Univ. of Kansas in Lawrence (UKL). This finding was consistent with a King County, Washington coroner's study which found that the average age of death was slightly below that of the rest of the state, and that 6% of all CS's deaths were preventable. These results were remarkable because CS's are admonished against the use of tobacco and alcohol. It was suggested that being a CS had a negative effect which overrides the benefits of not smoking or drinking. These results prompted a comparison of CS's with a religious group who also are admonished to abstain from smoking and alcohol, 7th-day Adventists (SDA). Thus, a comparison of the mortality of the graduates of PC and Loma Linda University's College of Arts & Sciences (LLU) from 1945-83 was done. The overall mortality for PC v LLU was even greater than for UKL (40 v 22/1000 for men, and 27 v 12/1000 for women). Aside from potential differences which may exist in people and their progeny who choose to become CS's or SDA's, among the most obvious differences is CS's rejection of immunization and health care. ("Comparative mortality of two college groups," CDC Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, 8/23/91 (40::579-82.)
A federal district court has ordered Reno-based California Pacific Research, Inc. and its owner Robert E. Murphy Jr,. to pay $2 million plus court costs for falsely and deceptively claiming that their "New Generation" products prevent baldness and stimulate hair regrowth in those with male pattern baldness. Sale of the products has been halted. (FTC News Notes, 9/9/91).
The editors of JAMA worked hard to undo a wrong that was done when they published a "Letter from New Delhi" in the May 22/29, 1991 issue. The authors of the article failed to disclose that they were involved in organizations that sell the products and services about which they wrote. Upon learning that they had been deceived, journal editors went to work to obtain financial disclosures for publication. What they uncovered was one of the most elaborate networks of questionable practitioners and product promoters NCAHF has ever seen described. Ayur-vedic advocates have created their own literature and medically-credentialed supporters who provide a facade of science for what is nothing more than prescientific Hindu cosmology and mystical medical practices. Too large and complex to detail here, the article "Maharishi Ayur-Veda: guru's marketing scheme promises the world eternal 'perfect health'" (266:1741-50) is one of the best exposes we have ever seen of a pseudomedical system. This article is a classic in the literature of consumer health education, and is must reading for NCAHF members.
Consistent with a history of jumping on every health fad bandwagon chiropractors are promoting ayurvedic medicine in some of their publications. Metaphysical healing systems that believe in a vitalistic "life force" are compatible with chiropractic's Innate Intelligence concept. In the case of ayurvedic medicine "prana" is the name given the Hindu life force concept. Thus, true believer DCs are sitting ducks for any healing notion that claims the existence and importance of a vital life force.
A special ACSH report, Dubious Dental Care by John E. Dodes, DDS, (edited by Stephen Barrett, MD) provides an excellent overview of questionable dentistry. Topics covered include dubious credentials, Sargenti root canal therapy, Keyes gum disease treatment, inappropriate TMJ therapy, improper implants, dubious claims for bonding, do-it-yourself tooth bleaching, amalgam toxicity, holistic dentistry, nutrition quackery, applied kinesiology, cranial osteopathy, ear acupuncture, reflexology, and their promotion. Order from ACSH, 1995 Broadway, 16th Floor, NY, NY 10023-5860; price: $3.85.